Empire Hotel, main entrance with the Mercedes 600SE hotel limousines.
The Empire Hotel in Brunei built by Prince Jefri and brother of the Sultan, was meant to be his Royal Palace but is now a luxurious hotel. After spending a week of six star comfort and lavish meals in a near empty hotel with endless marble corridors, you want to go home, to your simple but warm little nest. You feel sorry for the Sultan, he has to live in a big empty hotel all his life.
The Empire Hotel sits on a prime location on the North-West coast of Borneo in Brunei, a small sultanate on the Malaysian part of Borneo. Brunei has 300000 inhabitants and is rich in oil and gas resources which made the Sultan one of the richest men in the world.
The hotel was built by Prince Jefri, the brother of the Sultan, as a 500 room palace at a cost of one billion US dollars. Prince Jefri was finance minister for years but after squandering 15-30 Billion US dollars on dubious projects like the Jerudong Amusement Park, the Sultan finally decided to fire him but Jefri already left the country taking an unknown but no doubt large sum of money. The Sultan tried to get his money back but Jefri hired a team of US shark lawyer who threatened to reveal a number of scandals, mostly sex parties with classy escort girls flown in by the dozen over the past 20 years. Life is different now, even in this liberal Muslim country and the Sultan had to stop his privileged parties. This was also triggered by an ex Miss World who threatened to sue the Sultan claiming she was raped during one of those parties. After Prince Jefri fled the country during the building of his new palace and the Sultan decided to turn it into one of the few six star hotels in the world.
At the entrance, you know you enter a different world. The highway has an exit for the hotel only and 5 men dressed in military uniforms guard the gate of the 6 square kilometer area along the coast dominated by a first class 18 hole golf course. The main building with the reception has the space of a giant mosque. Big pillars of marble line the eight story atrium. From here two long wings extend for some 500 meters and to reach your room you must walk several minutes.
The restaurants are all top class but surprisingly inexpensive. A mixed Malaysian-European buffet restaurant in the atrium has a good choice of both healthy and heavy food. The only complaint I had is the lack of Swiss style muesli and plain yogurt for breakfast now available in most hotels. Five young girls are constantly on the lookout for serving you. All very nice looking and very attentive. Other restaurants are the Chinese pavilion overlooking the 8th hole of the golf course, the Italian restaurant inside and the fish restaurant outside at the giant pool.
The Cinema and sports club are in separate buildings. I only visited the Golf Shop to arrange a round of golf. Swimming is a sweaty affair. The giant pool has the temperature of a bath tub in this hot climate so you sweat inside the pool. Most Westerners indulge in juice drinks resembling cocktails but without alcohol as a public sale is banned.
After two days I was already adapted to the place. Initially I felt guilty of keeping the air-conditioner in the room at 16 degrees Celsius but after trying out the thick down duvet I was lost. A single button on the bedside control panel opens or closes the curtains and another button switches on or off all lamps.
The bathroom has the size of a normal hotel room, a big marble room with golden taps. In my wild fantasy, I felt there was only one thing missing. I looked behind the door and bathrobe, nothing. Behind the glass doors of the toilet, nothing. In the shower, again nothing. With all the comfort, you feel it should be there as it would be only a minor expense and a perfect royal treat., ……
I should ask my friend Bill (Clinton), he stayed here last year.
Running the golf course holes is nice but heavy in the hilly terrain, especially by the warm and humid climate. The 5 km of the first nine holes took me already 40 minutes and a lot of sweat. I only did this once.
The jungle in most of Malaysian Borneo has been cut which is visible from the air and a bit depressing. In Brunei the situation is a lot better as logging is now only a small activity and the remaining forests are protected. Brunei has only 300000 people but the country is small, about 100 by 50 km, and the country side is well populated. Much of the land is used by small farmers with patches of open forest in between their small plots of land.
When I was traveling the country-side, it seems that the standard of living is variable but generally low. Many houses are relatively basic but reasonable in size. The older houses are all built on one-story high poles and have corrugated iron roofs. The extra floor of air has advantages, cooler by catching the wind, less prone to nasty animals and protection for floods during the wet season. Some of the newer homes are big, American style with at least 300 square meter of floor space and a double garage. The owners clearly profited of the oil dollars. Wages for ordinary people must be low as food in simple restaurants is around 1-2 Euro and vegetarian food is even less.
Interesting trips into the jungle by car include the Desai Lake inland, the forestry of the xxx National Park on the coast near the LNG terminal near Seria, and the long xxx walk into the inner region of the South. Diving is not allowed currently as boats are banned from any reef due to excessive dynamite and poison fishing.
Canopy walk in the Temburung National Park.
Park starts above Limbang. After Google Earth
One of the last remaining original rain forests on Borneo is in the Temburang National Park, isolated from the rest of the country by a large mangrove forest. From the capital city Bandar it takes 30-45 minutes by speedboat through the many channels of the mangrove forest to the access road, a half hour by bus and finally 30 minutes up a murky fast flowing river by a motorized long boat, a big canoe that seats 7 persons. The jungle is pristine with 30 m high trees. The 1 km walk is very civilized, a hang bridge takes you across the river and the hilly path through the jungle is a complete wooden staircase and even has shelters for the common afternoon heavy rain showers. The moist heat and slippery wood make it a bit of an effort. At the end, scaffolding was built to reach the 30 m high canopy. If you have fear of heights, do not go up as the height structure moves a bit.
I could not resist the 18 hole golf course around the hotel. Perfect fairways and greens, the grass kept in top condition by numerous gardeners and assisted by the humid and warm climate. The electric cart is mandatory and I recommend it because of the heat, fierce sun and there are no caddies. I still got a heavy sun burn on my arms and lips after being outside for 5 hours. I also got bitten in several spots by sand flies an0d these turn into itchy spots you shouldn’t scratch but as it lasts for a week of course you do. Few persons use the golf course, even on the Saturday I played. However, being a private club, this is how you want it as a rich Brunei, private, quiet and spacious.